The middle of the order has made many highlights during Milwaukee's amazing recent run.
By RYAN KARTJEFS Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE — Heading into the 2012 season,
Brewers fans were overtly concerned about what would come from their cleanup spot. Soured by losing
Prince Fielder, Milwaukee replaced him with Aramis Ramirez — a third baseman who has always been solid but never quite delivered eye-popping numbers. It was a move that made some yearn for Fielder again.
But Ramirez has proven time and time again this season that he's been more than just a viable replacement for Fielder. At times, considering his impressive defense in the field, he's been even better. And on Friday night, with the wild-card race truly heating up, the Brewers trailed 2-1 heading into the ninth inning and Ramirez and Braun proved again why the middle of Milwaukee's order hasn't skipped a beat since 2011.
Just one day removed from an impressive eighth inning comeback that gave the Brewers a sweep of the Pirates, Nori Aoki came to the plate in the top of the ninth, as the heart of the Brewers' order served as the only chance they could steal away the opener of their do-or-potentially-die four-game series with Washington. After delivering the perfect bunt and advancing to third base on a Rickie Weeks sacrifice fly, it was Braun and Ramirez that held the game's fate in their hands.
With an 0-1 count, Braun first connected with an inside changeup, knocking the ball to left field and scoring Aoki to tie the game up. It was a moment Braun said he lives for as a baseball player.
"That's what you live for," Braun said. "You live for those moments. That's the reason you work hard. For all of us, it's exciting to be back in this position. We've still got a little ways to go, but we're certainly enjoying all of these moments."
But it was Ramirez that would deliver the most important and crushing blow of the ballgame. With an 0-1 count, Braun stole second, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. And like he has so many times this season, Ramirez delivered on the next pitch, doubling to deep left and scoring Braun, putting the Brewers in yet the midst of yet another miraculous late comeback.
Travis Ishikawa would add another run, but it wouldn't matter. The Brewers wouldn't allow a single run in the bottom of the ninth, as Braun and Ramirez's clutch hits would prove to be the difference.
"That's what we work so hard for, to come through in those situations," Ramirez said. "That's what we get paid for — to drive in big runs. … The last two nights show what type of ballclub we have. Last night, we come back from a three-run deficit in the eighth. Tonight, against a good closer … we come back and win again. We never give up."
And Friday night also showed how impressive of a result the Brewers have gotten from their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, especially in clutch, important moments. Ramirez, an absolute doubles machine this season (now with 47), has been particularly huge in the most important of moments.
Now, just one game down in the wild card race after a Cardinals' loss, the Brewers No. 3 and No. 4 men will be in some more important, do-or-die moments. And with a pretty large sample size at this point of how impressive they can be, Braun and Ramirez have been two of the faces of an amazing comeback run.
(The last two games have) felt like playoff games," Braun said. "We're approaching every game like it's a playoff game. We recognize we're in a must-win situation playing against two good teams in two tough environments. It's just a lot of guys coming through in big moments."